21 March 2018

The Household and Family of Forgiveness

By the King of Peace, in the City of Peace, God establishes a House and a Home for His family.  Not by the great and mighty King David, who was a man of war, but by his son, King Solomon, whose very name means peace, God builds a Temple in the City that He has chosen, where He causes His Name to dwell among His people.  And this is already about Jesus, the true King of Peace, who in the same City of Jerusalem establishes His own Body as the very Temple of God.

The point is not that God would have some place to live, as though He were homeless.  For even the heavens and the earth cannot contain Him.  But He dwells with you here on earth, in order that you may have a place to live with Him.  Not by any works of your own, but solely by His grace.

He has created you to live in relationship with Him.  So, to bring about that relationship, even after the fall into sin, He does this great good work.  He sacrifices His Son, in order to reconcile you and all the world to Himself in Peace.  By the Blood of Christ He atones for your sins, so that nothing stands against you.  He has set His heart at peace with you.  There is nothing from His side that prevents you from coming to Him and living with Him.  No Word of the Law to condemn you.  No threat of judgment hanging over your head.  He has dealt with it all in the death of Christ.

And in raising the same Christ Jesus from the dead, the Body of Christ has become the Temple of God.  His Body is a House of prayer for all the nations, whom He calls to Himself by His Gospel, enlightens with His gifts, sanctifies in body and soul by His Spirit, and preserves in the true faith.

Come, then, to the House of God in Christ.  Here you really are at home.  Here is where you live.

It is here in this place, in the Church of His Gospel–Word and Sacraments, in the Body of Christ, that God causes His Name and His Glory to dwell in the midst of sinners, in order to save them by His grace through His forgiveness of sins.  He abides with you here, that you might live with Him.

By and with His Word of the Gospel, by and with His forgiveness of your sins, the Lord your God has named you with His own holy Name.  He has written it on your forehead and your heart in the washing of the water with His Word in Holy Baptism.  Thus, you are His own dear child and heir.  You are a member of His Household and Family in Christ Jesus, a member of His Body and Bride.  Indeed, you are built upon Christ, the Cornerstone, as a living stone within the House of God.

You’re part of the Church.  And that is where and how you live the life that God has given you.

Understand, therefore, and take it to heart, that God has so arranged and ordered His Church on earth — the entire Household of His Family, the Body of Christ — He has so arranged and ordered everything for this purpose: For reconciliation and the forgiveness of sins.

He has accomplished reconciliation and peace by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ.  And it is for the bestowing of His Peace on you and all people that He has established His Church on earth and preserves her in the world.  And everything within His Church is for the forgiveness of sins.  If the Church were a fig tree, the forgiveness of sins would be its fig.  That would be its good fruit.

Everything we do as a congregation of the Church, everything you do as a member of the Church, and everything you are to be about as a living stone of Christ, the Cornerstone, is to have this at its heart and center: The Forgiveness of Sins.  Forgiveness that you receive by the grace of God, that you might live by faith in Him.  And the forgiveness of your neighbors, as God forgives you.

God is quite serious about this forgiveness of sins and the reconciliation of His people to Himself and to each other in Christ Jesus.  It is no lark.  It is no joke.  It is what the Lord is all about, that you should not die in your sins but live with Him in faith and love, as He has always intended.

It is precisely for this purpose that God establishes His Church and causes the forgiveness of sins to be given and received through the external ways and means of His grace, mercy, and peace.

So it is that Solomon’s Temple in the Old Testament, and St. John’s Baptism on the cusp of the New Testament, and the preaching of St. Paul and the other Apostles — all of these things have and exercise the authority of Christ and His Cross, all for the sake of the forgiveness of sins.

You have heard a portion of the prayer that Solomon prayed at the dedication of the Temple, and perhaps you have noticed how often in that prayer the purpose of the Temple is identified with the forgiveness of sins.  Wherever in the world the people of God find themselves, and whatever their circumstances may be, they are to look to that place where God causes His Name and His Glory to dwell, and there find His forgiveness, according to His Word.  Not only Israel, but also the foreigner who turns to God by turning to the House that God the Lord establishes for His Name.

So, too, the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the sending of St. John the Baptist, who goes before the face of the Lord preaching a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And to this day, even to the close of the age, your pastors are likewise called and sent to exercise the same authority of Christ in the preaching of repentance and the forgiveness of sins in His Name.

Who am I to speak such a word?  I am nothing.  But according to my office, I speak not my word but Christ’s.  And by His Word your sins are forgiven before God in heaven.  It is just as valid and certain on earth as it is in heaven, because God causes His Name to dwell here with you in this way.  When your pastor speaks in the Name of Christ, it is Christ Jesus who speaks and forgives.

It is a Word of reconciliation that God has entrusted to His Church, and to His ministers of the Gospel.  As Christ Himself is the Word of God, so does He deal with you by and with His Word.  He speaks to you by the mouth of His servants, that you might hear with your ears, believe with your heart, pray and confess with your lips and your tongue, and so live by faith in His Name.

That is how you live within the Church, and that is how you live with God, namely, by the hearing of the Word that He speaks to you by His Son.  And by confessing that Word you say what is most certainly true, because you say what God has said.  You confess your sins, which is to speak what God has spoken by His Law.  And you confess His Gospel, which is the forgiveness of your sins.

In making that confession of your sins and of faith in the Gospel, you come with your words and with your body to that place where God has caused His Name and His Glory to dwell on earth for you and for the many.  You come to that man, to that Font, to that Altar, to that bread and wine, to that House where God abides with you and with His people with His forgiveness of sins.

And as you hear, so do you also speak.  Not only in confessing, and not only in praying, but so also in speaking forgiveness to your neighbor.  That is not optional.  It is the way of the Christian life.

The forgiveness of your neighbor’s trespasses against you is so fundamental to the Christian faith and life that our Lord on several occasions says, quite straightforwardly, that if you do not forgive your brother his trespasses against you, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.

That is a Word of the Law that ought to cause you to tremble to the very core of your being.  And it ought to bring you to repentance for your failure to forgive.  To forgive as you are forgiven is so bound up with faith in Christ and His Gospel, that where you refuse to forgive you harden your heart against the Gospel and drive faith and the Holy Spirit altogether out of your heart and life.

It is fundamental that you forgive.  The fig tree that does not bear this fruit of forgiveness shall be cut down, and thrown into the fire, and burned.  It is impossible to live with God where forgiveness is denied and rejected; to deny and reject it for your neighbor is to deny and reject it for yourself.

What, then, are the mountains that are standing in your way?  As you contemplate your brothers and sisters in Christ — yes, even your brothers and sisters in Christ — what are the mountains that would seem to prevent you from being reconciled to them?  What is it that is getting in the way and keeping you from seeing them as God sees them, even as He also beholds you in Christ Jesus?

Have you been so badly hurt that you simply cannot bring yourself to forgive?  But is that not to measure and evaluate the cost and conditions of forgiveness, as though it were not by the grace of God but an indulgence to be bought and sold, bartered and negotiated?

Do not suppose that you will live by such a way or standard of the Law.  And do not suppose that you will be able to obtain forgiveness for yourself while you deny it to your neighbor.  For by the measure with which you evaluate and judge your neighbor, you also will be measured and judged.

If you have failed to forgive your neighbor — if there is anyone you have refused to forgive — Repent.  Insofar as it depends on you, be at peace with your neighbor.  Forgive your neighbor from the heart, as God in Christ so graciously forgives you.  And bear fruits worthy of such repentance.

God goes looking for fruits on the fig tree, even out of season, that is to say, even where the world would never expect or fathom such grace.  Because there is a Tree that He has planted, which bears Fruit all year long, in season and out of season.  And the fruits of that Tree are for the healing of the nations.  There is no season in which you cannot forgive the sins of your neighbor, because there is no season on earth when the Tree of the Cross is not bearing the fruits of forgiveness.

The first fruit of repentance, then, is to hear and receive and trust that forgiveness which God speaks to you in Christ by His Word of the Gospel.  To hear it and not despise it.  To seek it out and ask for it.  To lay hold of it, and to depend upon it.  So that your own sins no longer tyrannize you and drive you into death, and so that the sins of your neighbor no longer loom so large, either.  So that you are able to live your life in the world in relation to your neighbor in the peace of Christ.

To live by such repentance and forgiveness is to live by faith in the Word and works of God.  For the House that He has built is a place of Peace, though not confined to any one location.  You are at Peace with God within His House when you believe the Gospel that is spoken to you.  When you take to heart the forgiveness of sins that has been established for you in Christ.  When you know and trust that God has reconciled you to Himself, and you are reconciled to Him.  And thus, being reconciled to God in Christ, you are reconciled to your neighbors through the forgiveness of sins.

Repent.  But do not be afraid.  It is not too late.  And though it is impossible for you, it is not too hard for the Lord.  It does not finally depend on you.  Rather, the forgiveness that Christ commands you to give your neighbor depends on Christ Himself.  For as often as you hear His Gospel, He is not withholding His forgiveness but freely extending it to you, even as He calls you to repentance.

His forgiveness of your sins does not even depend on your repentance, but your repentance relies on His forgiveness, on the Word and promise of His Gospel.  It is not a contract to negotiate, far less an indulgence for sale, but the free gift of God in Christ, obtained for you by His Cross, and distributed to the ends of the earth in His Resurrection from the dead for your justification.

When you hear and receive His Word of forgiveness, when you cling to that Word by faith, and by that Word you know yourself to be forgiven before God in heaven, then by that same Word of forgiveness the mountains that stand between you and your neighbor are removed into the depths of the sea.  That is the same ocean of Holy Baptism in which all of your sins are drowned and done away with.  Thus, by the Word and work of Christ, all is forgiven.  And by His Word and Spirit a line is drawn through the entire ledger.  There are no longer any debts.  Not before God, and not between you and your neighbor.  For Christ has accomplished the purpose for which God the Father has spoken Him in the Flesh.  Your sins are forgiven.  There is no condemnation for you in Christ Jesus.  Live with Him, therefore, in that Peace which surpasses all human understanding.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

No comments: